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Max Cavitch

Associate Professor of English

Fisher-Bennett Hall 341

Office Hours

fall 2023

virtual office hours, by appointment

I joined Penn's faculty in 1999, after receiving my B.A. from Yale and my Ph.D. from Rutgers. My areas of expertise include American and African American Literatures and Cultures, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. My first book, published in 2007, is a study of mourning poetry in 18th- and 19th-century North America: American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman. I’m currently working on two new monographs: Passing Resemblances: World Autobiography from Enheduannna to Knausgaard and Mad Poet of Philadelphia: Towards a New Literary Psychohistory. I’m the editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days (forthcoming fall 2023) and the co-editor (with historian Brian Connolly) of the essay-collection, Situation Critical! Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies (forthcoming in 2024 from Duke University Press). I’ve also published numerous articles on a wide variety of topics in journals including American Literary HistoryContemporary PsychoanalysisEarly American LiteratureESQThe Journal of Wild CulturePMLAOxford Literary ReviewPostmodern CulturePsychoanalysis, Culture & SocietyScreenSenses of Cinema, and Victorian Poetry. I also write in various non-academic forms, including recent or forthcoming poetry in the journals Brittle StarPolitics/Letters Live, and Grand and a work of creative non-fiction, Ashes: A History of Thought and Substance, which is forthcoming from Punctum Books.

In addition to my work as a scholar and as a teacher, I serve as a longtime member of the Advisory Council of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, as a member of the collaboration committee of the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychiatry, as one of the founding faculty members (and since 2020 one of the co-directors) of Penn’s undergraduate program in Psychoanalytic Studies, and as a founding member of the international Historical Poetics Working Group. I also continue to edit and to contribute to the blog I launched in 2019, called "Psyche on Campus", which received the 2022 Award for Excellence in Journalism from the American Psychoanalytic Association.

In these various pursuits, I have been the grateful recipient of fellowships and grants from the Center for Mark Twain Studies, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, the Penn Humanities Forum, Cornell’s Society for the Humanities, the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Arts Fund, the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women, and the Austen Riggs Center.

More information, including forthcoming courses, publications, speaking engagements, and other events, is available at the following Web sites:

Finally, when I’m not indoors teaching or writing, I find bits of time to pursue artisanal mining and to contribute as often as possible to the wonderful public-science project, iNaturalist. You can read about iNaturalist in my essay linked here and you can follow my contributions to iNaturalist itself at the following link:


Articles and Book Chapters

"Mark Twain, the Talking Cure, and Literary Form" American Literary History (2023)
"Everybody's Autotheory" Modern Language Quarterly (2022)
"In the Interest of History" History of the Present (2022)
"Paul Celan and Ukraine" Politics/Letters (2022)
"Safaa Fathy and Jacques Derrida, 'Contre-jour'" Introduction and translator. PMLA (2016)
"Clericus and the Lunatick" Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America (2013)
"Irregulars" Contemporary Psychoanalysis (2013)
"Genre" The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012)
"Lament" The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012)
"Slavery and Its Metrics" The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry (2011)
"American Constitutional Elegy" The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy (2010)
"Dickinson and the Exception" A Companion to Emily Dickinson (2008)
"Stephen Crane’s Refrain" ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance (2008)
"Introduction" The Pioneers (2007)
"Emma Lazarus and the Golem of Liberty" American Literary History (2006)
"Death’s Histories" Early American Literature (2004)

Doctoral Dissertations Chaired


Don James McLaughlin "Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature"
Ana Schwartz "Feeling Past Politics: Affection, Settlement, and the Disciplines of Civil Society in Early Anglo America, 1620-1682"


Greta LaFleur "American Insides: Popular Narrative and the Historiography of Sexuality, 1674-1815"
Joshua Ratner ""American Paratexts: Experimentation and Anxiety in the Early United States""


Mark J. Miller "Voicing Abjection: Evangelic Discourse, Suffering and Speech in Early American Literature"

Courses Taught

fall 2024

spring 2024

ENGL 0038.401 Study of a Genre: World Autobiography canceled  

spring 2023

ENGL 0038.401 World Autobiography  

fall 2022

ENGL 2800.401 The Person in the Poem  

spring 2022

fall 2021

ENGL 573.401 Lives of the Death Drive  

spring 2020

ENGL 090.401 Queer Autobiography  
ENGL 286.301 American Autobiography  

fall 2019

ENGL 016.303 21st-Century Autobiography  

spring 2019

ENGL 090.401 Queer Autobiography  
ENGL 286.301 American Autobiography  

fall 2018

ENGL 102.401 Intro to Psychoanalysis  
ENGL 286.401 Emily Dickinson at Large  

spring 2017

fall 2016

fall 2015

ENGL 101.003 Poe and Popular Culture  

summer 2015

spring 2015

fall 2014

spring 2014

fall 2013

ENGL 016.303 Emily Dickinson at Large  

spring 2012

ENGL 100.401 Dangerous Writers  

fall 2011

spring 2011

ENGL 781.301 Histories of Forgetting  

fall 2010

spring 2010

fall 2009

ENGL 016.302 Emily Dickinson at Large  

spring 2009

ENGL 598.301 Futures of American Poetry  

fall 2008

ENGL 286.402 Americans in Paris  

summer 2007

spring 2007

ENGL 286.401 Americans in Paris  

spring 2006

ENGL 386.301 Emily Dickinson at Large  

fall 2005

ENGL 299.309 Independent Study  
ENGL 781.301 Histories of Forgetting  

spring 2005

ENGL 089.001 American Fiction and Memory  

fall 2004

spring 2004

ENGL 311.301 The Honors Program  

spring 2003

ENGL 282.301 American Poetry  
ENGL 311.301 The Honors Program  

fall 2002

ENGL 089.001 American Fiction  

spring 2002

fall 2001

ENGL 283.401 American Women Writers  

spring 2001

ENGL 089.001 American Fiction  

fall 2000

spring 2000

ENGL 089.001 American Fiction  

fall 1999